Secret Hess test behind Thurston's return
Perhaps if he'd seen Mitchell Moses fold like a $7 K-Mart lawn chair under the impressive bulk of Coen Hess last weekend, Johnathan Thurston would not have agreed to the test that he subjected his shoulder to in order to prove he was ready to play again.
Ever since recovering from a calf strain to take his place in the Kangaroos team for the mid-year Test, Thurston's subsequent shoulder complaint has provided a myriad of guestimates as to when the champion five-eighth might play again.
Named 18th man for Queensland ahead of Origin I, Thurston accepted his fate six days out from kick-off but before he was cleared to play his first game in five weeks last Saturday in Darwin, he subjected himself to the most daunting physical examination in the game today; tackling Cowboys colossus Coen Hess.
As his teammates trained for the cameras in the lead-up to their clash with the Eels, Thurston was whisked away to a secret location along with the two biggest blokes the Cowboys could muster – Hess and Corey Jensen – for some tackling practice.
Although Jensen may have been hesitant at the prospect of ending Thurston's season and representative career should the shoulder fail to cope with the load, surviving gave Thurston the confidence that he could handle anything Parramatta threw at him.
"I did some [tackling practice] on him and one of the other boys, Corey Jensen, who is like hitting granite," Thurston said of the Hess stress test.
"Once I'd tackled those two boys I knew that I was going to handle it."
Given the interest in his return both for club and state Thurston's test was conducted away from the main group but when he returned in one piece he received a rapturous reception.
"We had to take the heat off him because all the cameras were watching us. We let him do that in a secret spot," said Cowboys and Maroons back-rower Gavin Cooper.
"Once he came out he got a couple of high fives from the boys.
"One of the young boys that was running at him started off a little bit easy because they didn't want to hurt him again.
"He didn't want to be known as the one that put him out again.
"The physios and stuff did a really good job getting him back to where he is and I know he's raring to go."
The 34-year-old hadn't missed such a lengthy stint of football since suffering a knee injury in Game Three of the 2011 State of Origin Series, his shoulder injury bringing to an end his extraordinary run of 36 consecutive Origin matches for Queensland.
Having been battered from pillar to post against the Eels as he orchestrated a thumping win Thurston is now ready to exact revenge on New South Wales for the job they did on his team in his absence but he admitted that he was unsure how his shoulder would hold up prior to taking the field last weekend.
"It's been quite a while so it's been difficult to sit on the sidelines but injuries are a part of the game and unfortunate for me it's come this year," Thurston told NRL.com.
"I was very nervous. Obviously hadn't played a game in nearly six weeks so pretty nervous.
"Just worried about if the shoulder is right, if you've done enough work to perform at your best.
"You want to get through the game unscathed.
"I don't want to be out there and become a passenger in any team that I play and I was a little bit nervous about that."
Now there are three new faces and the return of a couple of very familiar ones for Thurston to get to know in a short space of time.
He knows it is on himself, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith to not only educate them in the culture of Queensland but also the manner in which they want to play but remains excited at the enthusiasm they will bring to the preparation.
"We've got four debutants which brings a lot of energy and it's about bringing those boys up to speed with how we want to play and how we want to execute our game-plan," said Thurston.
"Some of those boys have played in big matches before so they understand how to get the preparation right for the game but we all know that Origin is a different beast so it's about bringing those boys up to speed on the way that we want to attack and certainly defend.
"It's about enjoying the week as much as possible and when it's time to work you go to work."